Investigation into military officer overseeing vaccines referred to Quebec prosecutor

·3 min read

OTTAWA — Canada's military police have referred their investigation into the general who oversaw Canada's vaccination campaign to Quebec's prosecution service, which has responsibility for laying charges in the province.

The move was announced in a statement from the military’s top police officer on Wednesday, which also confirmed for the first time that the investigation related to an allegation of sexual misconduct against Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin.

The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service "has conducted an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct involving Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin," reads the statement from Provost Marshal Brig.-Gen. Simon Trudeau.

"It has referred the matter to the director of criminal and penal prosecutions, who is the charge laying authority for criminal and penal prosecutions in the province of Quebec."

While the statement did not reveal when the case was sent to Quebec's prosecutions, the referral would explain why acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre abruptly sidelined Fortin from the vaccination campaign on Friday.

A spokeswoman for the Quebec prosecution service confirmed receipt of the file "during the past week."

"Consequently, as with any other file brought to our attention by the police, we will conduct a rigorous analysis of the evidence to determine whether charges will be laid," said Audrey Roy Cloutier. "At this point, we cannot comment further on this matter."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that he first learned weeks ago that Fortin was under investigation, while Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's office has said the minister was briefed in mid-March.

Fortin nonetheless remained in charge of the vaccination campaign until Friday, when the Defence Department released a terse three-line email saying he was being removed from his position because of an unspecified "military investigation."

The Defence Department and government have not revealed the specifics of the investigation, but CTV has reported it relates to an allegation Fortin exposed himself to a woman while studying at the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, Que., in 1989.

Fortin's lawyer has said his client was unaware of the details of the allegation until a reporter contacted him Sunday, and that the general, who was widely praised for overseeing the vaccination campaign since November, categorically denies any wrongdoing.

Experts and political opponents subsequently criticized the lack of information around his removal, saying it underscores existing frustration over a lack of transparency within the military, and raised concerns about Canada's vaccination effort.

Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who previously worked with Fortin on the vaccination campaign, has taken over in his stead.

Retired lieutenant-colonel Rory Fowler, now a lawyer specializing in military law in Kingston, Ont., said the fact investigators have referred the case to Quebec's prosecution service suggests a possible jurisdictional issue in the case.

Notably, he said, the military did not have authority to prosecute cases dealing with sexual assault prior to 1998. There is also a previous three-year limitation on the prosecution of offences.

"So there's at least two jurisdictional issues that could potentially be at play, depending upon the potential charges," he said.

Fortin joins a growing list of generals and admirals who have been suspended or forced to step aside in recent weeks, many of them in response to allegations of inappropriate conduct.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2021.

—with files from Morgan Lowrie in Montreal.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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